Vegetarians are a third less likely to develop diverticular disease than carnivores, finds research published on bmj.com today.
Dubbed a “disease of western civilisation,” the condition is thought to be caused by not consuming enough fibre. Previous research has suggested that vegetarians may have a lower risk compared with meat eaters, but there has been little evidence to substantiate this.
The researchers from the Cancer Epidemiology Unit at the University of Oxford base their findings on 47,033 generally health conscious British adults who were taking part in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC)-Oxford study. Some 15,459 said they were vegetarian.
During an average monitoring period of 11.6 years, 812 cases of diverticular disease, which entailed 806 admissions to hospital and six deaths, arose.
After adjusting for influential factors such as smoking, alcohol and weight, the analysis showed that vegetarians had a 31% lower risk of diverticular disease than meat eaters and had a lower cumulative risk of ending up in hospital with the condition between the ages of 50 and 70.
Furthermore, participants with a relatively high intake of dietary fibre of around 25g a day had a 41% lower risk of being admitted to hospital with, or dying from, diverticular disease than those eating less than 14g of fibre a day.
But the 2000-01 UK National Diet and Nutrition Survey showed that 72% of men and 87% of women do not meet the recommended dietary fibre intake of 18g per day, meaning that the proportion of diverticular diseases in the general population cased by a low fibre diet could be considerable, suggest the authors.
Their findings back public health recommendations for greater consumption of foods high in fibre such as wholemeal breads, wholegrain cereals, fruits and vegetables, they conclude.
In an accompanying editorial, researchers from Nottingham University Hospital discuss the implications for the health of the population and the individual.
David Humes and Joe West estimate that “about 71 meat eaters would have to become vegetarians to prevent one diagnosis of diverticular disease,” based on the study results.
They add: “Overall the opportunity for preventing the occurrence of diverticular disease and other conditions, such as colorectal cancer, probably lies in the modification of diet, at either a population or an individual level.”
But they caution: “far more evidence is needed before dietary recommendations can be made to the general public.”